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How to make your wardrobe sustainable (12 easy steps)

I’ll be the first to admit, I am not perfect when it comes to a sustainable wardrobe. As I learn more about the far reaching effects of fast fashion, I make greater efforts to make my wardrobe sustainable. Sustainable fashion goes beyond thrifting. It encompasses the lifetime of a garment, from the materials used and how it’s assembled, to your care and disposal of it. The 12 easy steps you’ll learn about here, are simple to apply, and will help eliminate the harmful effects of the fast fashion industry.

1. Shop Secondhand

Buying your close secondhand or resale is not what it used to be. Gone are the days of sifting through racks of dull clothes that still bare the smell of their previous owner. Online stores and apps like Thredup, Poshmark, The RealReal, Mercari, and Tradsey, have changed the game when it comes to previously loved items. I purchase nearly all my clothing off these sites because the deals and quality are unparalleled by most retail stores.

Secondhand thrifted outfits sustainable wardrobe

2. Air Dry Clothes

The dryer is the second most energy consuming appliance in most households. Air drying as many clothes as possible will reduce energy consumption and lower your electric bill. It also increases the lifetime of delicate clothing, and can prevent fading.

air dry clothing rack

3. Shop Sustainable

If you must buy something new, support retailers that produce garments with consideration for the environment and their employees. There are a multitude of brands which source their materials sustainably while providing fair and safe working conditions. Large brands are also making strides towards sustainability by offering eco-friendly product lines.

4. Build a capsule wardrobe

A capsule wardrobe is one that is comprised of a small number of versatile pieces. These pieces are carefully curated to last season-after-season. The focus of a capsule wardrobe is on quality, not quantity. Building a capsule wardrobe is a more sustainable choice. It helps to eliminate impulse buys and allows you to maximize your outfit combinations.

women's work capsule wardrobe

Click here to build your Spring/Summer capsule wardrobe, or for tips to build one for Fall/Winter.

5. Rewear clothes

Clothing items like underwear or gym clothes need a wash after each use, but pieces like dresses and jeans can wait. Delaying laundry day will reduce energy use, water, and lower your monthly utilities bill. If you’re not sure what to wash or rewear, here are some general guidelines you can save, and share, to lighten your laundry load.

when to wash your clothes sustainable wardrobe

6. Wash in cold

90% of the energy that washers use is from heating the water. By washing your clothes in cold water you’ll reduce energy consumption and save on your energy bill. Washing in cold can also help to increase the lifetime of your clothes.

7. Choose standard shipping

Although free 2-day shipping in convenient, it’s taking a toll on the environment by increasing shipping waste and carbon emissions. When companies offer express shipping, this requires them to increase their daily delivery drop-offs. Instead of waiting to fill their cargo trucks, and send them on the most efficient shipping route, they now send out more trucks that are half full. Express shipping also means that customer order items are packaged individually, rather than in one box. This increases packaging waste, that’s often not recycled. When you choose standard shipping, you give companies time to efficiently package and ship your delivery.

8. Reuse packaging

When you buy items online, don’t trash the packaging right away. Many companies use reusable packing. Saving packing materials can reduce the cost to ship and make your wardrobe more sustainable. When packing materials are no longer usable, make sure you recycle as much as possible.

9. Repair clothes

Resist the urge to toss your used clothes. If you love a piece that’s experienced wear from use, salvage it. Send your favorite garments to the tailor for repairs, instead of dumping them. If you possess sewing talents, you can make these repairs at-home.

10. Skip dry cleaning

Dry cleaning takes a toll on the environment by releasing harmful toxins that are dangerous to humans and animals. Whenever possible, skip the cleaners and hand wash your clothing. This tip will save you money and reduce your environmental impact. If you absolutely must dry clean a garment, search for an eco cleaner in your area that uses a greener process to clean your clothes.

11. Rent or borrow

Sites like Rent the Runway make it easy to find fashionable, high-end, pieces for special events. Since most of us don’t often rewear formal attire, renting formal pieces makes sense. Renting clothes, not only saves you closet space, it reduces fast fashion production. If you happen to have a friend that is your size, borrowing each others clothes is also a cost effective, eco-friendly, alternative.

12. Recycle or Donate

When your garment reaches the end of its life span, resist throwing it away. Do your best to repurpose the materials, recycle or donate it. Fashion giants like H&M and now making this process easier for shoppers. They provide a 15% discount to customers when they drop off their old garments, in any condition. Thredup also has a program for wardrobe donation to help you properly dispose of your clothes, so they don’t end up in a landfill.

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